|The row comes just weeks after the French and British leaders visited Tripoli after an invitation from the NTC [Reuters]|
A spokesman for David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, has dismissed apparent criticism from France’s president over the eurozone crisis, as the UK leader faced a battle at home over his country’s membership of the European Union.
In his comments on Monday, the spokesman did not deny reports that Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, had launched a scathing attack on Cameron at an EU summit that took place on Sunday.
According to British media reports, Sarkozy told Cameron: “You have lost a good opportunity to shut up.
“We’re sick of you criticising us and telling us what to do. You say you hate the euro. You didn’t want to join and now you want to interfere in our meetings.”
Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland reporting from Paris said: “It seems President Sarkozy took a less than diplomatic view of Britain being at the meeting.”
Speaking to journalists, Cameron’s spokesman said: “There was a discussion about whether or not there should be a European Council as well as a eurozone meeting on Wednesday.
“We thought it was important to have a meeting of all the 27 member states.
“I think it was in that context that he [Sarkozy] made the points he made. We have a clear interest as do other members of the European Union in what happens in the eurozone.”
In what some experts have called the biggest rebellion of his premiership, more than 80 MPs from Cameron’s Conservative party were expected to defy his order to vote against a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU during a parliamentary debate later on Monday.
“There is obviously a lot of debate today about our political relationship with the European Union, but one thing which is beyond doubt is the extent of our economic relationship with the European Union,” Cameron’s spokesman said.
“And therefore what happens in the eurozone and in other eurozone countries matters to us, and we need to be involved in that discussion.”
The debate reignites a long-simmering row over Britain’s role in Europe which tore apart the Conservatives in the 1990s and which Cameron has been desperate to defuse since he became party leader six years ago.
Although the vote in parliament looks set to fail, and carries no legal weight, it is seen as a major test of the Conservative leader’s authority and risks raising tensions within his pro-Europe Liberal Democrat coalition partners.
At least 80 members of parliament, many of them Conservatives, have put their names to a parliamentary motion calling for a referendum on whether Britain should leave the EU or renegotiate the terms of its membership.
Cameron has ordered Conservatives to vote against the motion, but the party is dominated by eurosceptics who believe
Britain’s sovereignty has been eroded by repeated transfers of power to Brussels.
Al Jazeera’s Barnaby Phillips, reporting from London said: “Eurosceptic parts of the Conservative party see the eurozone crisis as an opportunity to tap into popular opinion against the eurozone.”
The motion’s critics see the debt crisis afflicting the eurozone as an opportunity to wrest back powers or even to leave the EU altogether.
Supporters of EU membership say Britain does 40 per cent of its trade with the eurozone and that leaving the EU could
damage the economy and foreign investment.
A poll for the Mail on Sunday newspaper found 61 per cent of Britons want an EU referendum, while half wanted the government to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership to focus on trade.
Only 34 per cent wanted to leave the EU, compared to 44 per cent who wanted to stay and 22 per cent who did not know.